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Stavron v. SureTec Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

December 12, 2019

Ione Stavron & Serafim Steven Stavron, Appellants
SureTec Insurance Company, Appellee

          On Appeal from Probate Court No. 1 Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 2013-PR00606-1-F

          Before Birdwell, Bassel, and Womack, JJ.



         Appellants are Ione and Serafim "Sam" Stavron, a mother and son who appeal a summary judgment granting attorney's fees in favor of appellee SureTec Insurance Company. The trial court awarded the attorney's fees under the theory that SureTec had incurred legal expenses as a surety for Sam, and the Stavrons had agreed to indemnify SureTec for such a loss. We hold that SureTec had an enforceable indemnity agreement (contrary to Ione's first issue), that this indemnity obligation did not terminate (contrary to Sam's first issue), and that the reasonable and necessary amount of attorney's fees was conclusively proven (contrary to the Stavrons' second issues). We therefore affirm.

         I. Background

         When Steven Stavron died, his son Sam was appointed as temporary administrator of his estate. Sam retained an attorney, Louis Papaliodis, to handle the matter. As temporary administrator, Sam was required to post a bond. So, on March 7, 2013, he submitted to Southwest Bonding Company an application for bond number 3348561 in the amount of $50, 000. Ione, who was Steven's ex-wife, also submitted an application to Southwest Bonding the same day. Ione's application likewise concerned bond number 3348561, and her application bore the handwritten notation "Co-signer" at the top.

         The Stavrons' applications did not mention any surety company by name; instead, the applications asked for an unnamed "Surety" to issue a bond. On the back of both applications was an identical indemnity agreement, by which the applicants promised to indemnify the Surety against all claims and damages that the Surety may incur in connection with the extension of surety credit. The same day that the Stavrons executed their applications and submitted them to Southwest Bonding, SureTec issued bond number 3348561 to Sam in the amount of $50, 000.

         However, Sam's handling of the estate went awry, and he was replaced as temporary administrator. The order releasing him as temporary administrator also provided "the sureties on his bond are hereby released."

         Papaliodis was also replaced as the estate's attorney. Subsequently, Papaliodis made a claim against the estate. When his claim was rejected, he pursued litigation against the estate and SureTec. SureTec eventually prevailed, but it incurred legal fees in doing so. SureTec sought to recover its legal expenses from Ione and Sam, relying on the indemnity clause in the applications they signed. The Stavrons refused to indemnify SureTec, and SureTec filed this suit.

         On June 25, 2018, SureTec filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that as a matter of law, the indemnity clause entitled SureTec to recover its legal expenses from the Stavrons. Among the many exhibits attached to the motion was an affidavit from SureTec's attorney, Gregory Weinstein, who discussed his representation in general terms and averred that SureTec had incurred $41, 177 in attorney's fees.

         Two days before the summary judgment hearing, SureTec submitted a reply and a "supplemental" affidavit from Weinstein, along with detailed billing records covering the entirety of the three-year litigation. The supplemental affidavit stated that SureTec had by that point incurred $47, 289 in legal fees.

         On January 23, 2019, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of SureTec, awarding $47, 289 in attorney's fees jointly and severally against Sam and Ione, among other relief. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review a summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010). We consider the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, crediting evidence favorable to the nonmovant if reasonable jurors could and disregarding evidence contrary to the nonmovant unless reasonable jurors could not. Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp Advisors, Inc. v. Fielding, 289 S.W.3d 844, 848 (Tex. 2009). We indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. 20801, Inc. v. Parker, 249 S.W.3d 392, 399 (Tex. 2008). A plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on a cause of action if it conclusively proves all essential elements of the claim. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(a), (c); MMP, Ltd. v. Jones, 710 S.W.2d 59, 60 (Tex. 1986).

         III. Contract Formation and Joint ...

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